Angie was one of those girls who seemed to have it all. People enjoyed being around her. It wasn’t just because she was kind, it was that she exuded strength. But Angie got her strength the hard way.
On a warm summer evening, after all our exams were over and life seemed like it couldn’t be more perfect, Angie turned to me and started talking. “At these quiet times, I like to remind myself that life can change in a moment,” she said. Angie’s demeanour was calm, but I could tell by the way she fiddled with her hair that she was about to break the serenity I was feeling. Intently, I listened to her soft voice.
“One Saturday, I joined some friends on an evening out, and when an old friend invited me out for a night cap I agreed. I’d known him most of my life. He was a stand-up guy. You know the kind. The one even the teachers immediately warm to.” Angie sat very still for a moment and then she carried on. I think I knew it before she said it, but I waited and hoped I was wrong.
That night, Angie came home with something to hide.
“As he drove me home after everything happened that night my ‘friend’ didn’t even noticed me cringe as he bent forward and gave me a kiss on the cheek.” I watched the anguish on Angie’s face as her words painted a picture of her home-coming. She told me how she no longer felt safe as she closed the door to her apartment.
“I pulled off my red dress and flung it onto the floor right there in the hallway. I kicked off my crimson shoes, one by one. I had loved those shoes, but I knew I wouldn’t wear them again. I pulled of the scarlet scarf that I had thought was so trendy, woven into my hair at the beginning of the night. My red, beaded necklace felt like it was choking me. I grabbed at it, and as it broke I felt satisfied as I heard the beads bounce on the floor. But when they lay still, they looked like droplets of blood.” While Angie stood in the scalding hot shower – scouring at her skin and double cleaning herself, berating herself, and wondering if she had been impregnated – she imagined that he slept contently.
Xanti Bootcov was born in South Africa in the late ’60s. She enjoys travelling around the world, which is why she has lived in seven different countries. She believes in equality for all people. Xanti gave up on a single career path when it became necessary to choose between travel and career. After seeing the shadows and the light of abandonment and abuse, she adopted her two children. She has always been interested in understanding why people do what they do. This helped her when her experiences as an adoptive mother shaped her view on parenting. She’s been through earthquakes, a volcano erupting and a couple of fires. Currently, Xanti lives in Mauritius but continues to travel the world whenever possible. Visit her website www.xantibootcov.com or her Facebook page.
Angie and I sat in silence while I worked through what she had told me. She felt that she had become a cliché, a joke… a regret. She had gone out with a friend. She had no fear as the evening progressed. She had not worried that she would be unsafe.
But after that night, Angie had a secret she didn’t feel able to disclose. She didn’t think anyone would believe that she had said the word “no”. At quiet times, she would sometimes practice the word. No. NO. NO!
Angie couldn’t stop her own mind from blaming herself. She had willingly gone out, looking pretty. She’d put on some perfume and painted her lips. She smiled and laughed and enjoyed herself. She felt she was the accused, not him. As the months went by, Angie attempted to scrub her dirty shame away, and she played the night out again and again.
The entertaining evening out with friends had ended her innocence and left her with a cold reality she didn’t know how to process. She couldn’t understand why she had neither struggled nor screamed. In fact, she had played dead, her stiff body not moving at all. How could she believe she was not at fault? Her lack of compliance went unnoticed as he pulled himself on top of her. As he covered her mouth with his and held her down and as she shook her head – open eyed and tears flowing – he had ignored her small voice pleading to go home.
Until she told me her story, Angie had not fit the description that I held of someone who had “been through something”. Until then, I’d always loved horror movies, but after Angie I knew that no horror movie will ever be as scary to me as life can be.
She was still in one piece, but inside Angie had broken.
With the passing of time though, she was able to reframe her experience. Angie did what she could to cope, and when she was no longer able to look at herself in the mirror she went out looking for help. She was one of the lucky ones. She found a way to mend her shattered psyche and began to help others. That brought her strength back.
As a woman I often feel vulnerable. I am a small person and, while I can be strong of mind, I know that my size puts me at a physical disadvantage. But Angie’s courage stays with me every day. Like bones that mend, Angie became stronger. She was proof to me that when something unexpected takes us down a dark path, we don’t have to let it define who we are.
I am stronger for having known a woman like Angie. Her example stays with me, and when I am feeling torn down, it lifts me back up into my own resilience.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.